Popularity is something we all search for in one way or another. To be recognized, to be wanted, to be accepted, are things all humans long for in one form or another. Some go to great lengths to reach this fleeting moment of joy while others seem to find themselves at the top with effortless ease. Today’s film is about the dangers of being someone you are not in order to climb the heights of popularity. This is Can’t Buy Me Love.
Today’s Key Movie:
Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson star in a film about a nerd who pays the most popular girl in school to pose as his girlfriend for a month. However, things get complicated once the deal is completed.
Why this movie?
As a geek and a nerd growing up in the 80’s and 90’s I really identified with the characters in films like this. The first time I saw this one in particular it quickly became a favorite of mine. Interestingly, I originally wanted to watch it based on the fact that it was named after a song from one of my favorite bands, The Beatles. I was not dissapointed.
The concept of ‘being popular’ in school is one that every kid goes through. There is a social stigma to being an outcast. While popularity seems like the most important thing in the world at the time, most people come to realize that it is only superficial. Popularity isn’t everything and that is where this film’s message comes loud and clear.
Ronny Miller (Dempsey) is the nerd in question in this film and, it is in his quest for popularity that he discovers that sometimes what you want isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. In his determination to be someone he is not, not only does he manages to befriend the wrong people, but he also happens to alienate his lifelong friends, get into some serious trouble and even manages to nearly ruin the relationship with the girl he paid to help make him popular. It is a life lesson and one that is as clear today as it was even back then.
You like it, but is it a ‘good’ movie?
Back in the 80’s and 90’s, it seemed that Hollywood had figured out that making movies about Underdog Nerds was an easy way to make money. People enjoyed a good underdog story and, at the time, Nerds and Geeks were certainly seen as societies underdogs. Unlike today, being a geek was not a thing that people admired and being one would increase the likelihood of ridicule to ridiculous heights. It wouldn’t be long before Hollywood began to cash in on us geeks by making films where the Nerdy Underdogs managed to come out on top but, unfortunately, not always in the best of ways. The term for this type of film has become known as nerdsploitation and the films that fall into this genre range from solid to just plain bad. This one happens to be in the former and has really managed to age well.
As I mentioned above, the underlying story is simple, you can’t pay for happiness, popularity and, as the title suggests, love. While the idea of paying someone to date you is tantamount to prostitution, this film manages to do it with a modicum of grace. Ronny has only one thing on his mind and it is ‘being popular’. Soon, however, he finds himself becoming the very thing he has hated all along. He goes from being a straight ‘A’, kindhearted student to a sexist failure who uses those around him for his own personal gain. When he is exposed for his falsehood he soon discovers that his deception was for nothing and that a reputation is not something to play with. While he does manage to ‘get the girl’ in the end, it is through his redemption arc that reminds us that this is a fictitious story and most of those, unlike life, end up having a happy ending.
Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson do an amazing job with this film and it has remained one of my favorites to this day. While I never went to the lengths Ronny did to ‘become popular’ there were certainly times when the temptation to be ‘one of the popular kids’ was tempting as hell. It is never fun to be ridiculed and embarrassed by those who seem to be on top but, the lesson here is, if you can make it through that without changing who you are, you can make it through just about anything.
All in all, this is a classic 80’s film that manages to have a great message about the dangers of changing yourself in order to fit in. While it is a bit cliched these days, it is one of the best of the Nerdsploitation films around and manages to get the point across without being too hokey. Plus, it has a great scene involving an Ant-eater ritual dance that makes it worth the price of entry alone.
For those of you playing at home, this film also manages to star a young Seth Green in one of his earliest roles. Playing the bratty little brother, it is rather ironic that he himself has become one of the most famous Nerds in the industry.
OK, where do I get this movie?
You can pick this one up pretty cheap on DVD these days and it is available in digital format pretty much anywhere digital is offered. It is a great early film for Dempsey and the late Amanda Peterson, while it is steeped in 80’s culture, it is one that I think is absolutely worth your while.
Of course, the trailer:
Late To The Game 12/5/2019
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3 thoughts on “Key Movies Of My Life: Can’t Buy Me Love (1987)”
True. Three strikes you’re out Ronnie! Strike One – I cut him a break when he was washing Cindy’s car because that was early in the movie and he still could not fathom a girl like her falling for a guy like him. Strike Two – During their last date at the Airplane Graveyard Cindy should have told him the deal when he still thought she was only hanging with him out of some sort of contractual obligation (although he clearly should have figured it out himself by then). Strike Three – When she approached him in the hallway right after Thanksgiving and invited him back out to the Airplane Graveyard and tried to read him the poem she wrote for him, he wasn’t just blind, he was a full-blown jerk. Of course, Quint egging him on didn’t help either. He quickly realized his mistake and tried to chase after her to apologize, but then Iris stepped into the picture literally and figuratively! LOL!
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Great movie. The most fascinating aspect of this film is how Ronnie believed Cindy to be unattainable so he used her to gain popularity instead. Never in his wildest dreams did he think she would ever fall for a guy like him. He should have figured it out during the car washing scene and she should have clued him in at the Airplane Graveyard, but of course, the ensuing chaos and the hard lessons learned by all are what made the film so great.
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Like most people, Ronnie was blind to what was right in front of him the whole time.